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I’ve gone back and forth over the years concerning whether Megadeth or Slayer was the member of the so-called Big 4 who fell the softest after the close of the 80s, but lately it seems as though Mustaine and company have come out shinning far better than the rest. The only really enemy that he’s had has been the amazingly unrealistic expectations of many in Megadeth’s core fan base, but that hasn’t dissuaded them from writing solid thrashing heavy metal with a few occasional slip ups lately. Although perhaps the rapid lineup variations that ensued after Dave Ellefson have given off an air of inconsistency, the overall sound of the band has remained relatively constant in the past few years.
Things really started to look up with the release of “United Abominations”, which saw the exciting lead guitar duels and riff happy melodic songwriting that had largely been abandoned come back with a vengeance. Nonetheless, those who were looking for a return to form in concert with “Rust In Peace” were definitely not satisfied, as what resulted was a mixture of late 80s and early to mid 90s Megadeth, done very well I might add. However, if these relentless old school thrash maniacs wanted something akin to this band’s glory days, they need have only waited an additional 2 years for this mean pile of heaviness to hit the shelves.
“Endgame” is, from start to finish, a skull crushing iron boot to the head of what passes for aggression in many quarters today. It doesn’t seek to emulate the progressive tendencies of “Rust In Peace”, the all speed, all the time mayhem of “Killing Is My Business”, or the classic pure thrash masterpiece “Peace Sells”, but ventures dangerously close to the underrated power/thrash majesty of “So Far, So Good, So What?”. What this consists of is a good deal less studio gimmicks and a good deal more fist pounding, guitar oriented metal. From beginning to end it’s catchy, it’s mean, and it cuts right to the chase.
Probably the only thing that really makes this unique from Megadeth’s 80s albums, as the production is a pretty close emulation of their original sound, is the level of quality and emphasis put on the guitar solos. This becomes more than evident right at the start of the album on “Dialectic Chaos”, which showcases Dave and newly recruited former Jag Panzer wizard Chris Broderick battling each other in a manner that would rival the most insane lead moments on “Hanger 18” and “Holy Wars”. A good analogy could be made to the Tipton and Downing dueling leads on “Painkiller”, loaded with rapid speed licks, but overtop a much more chaotic arrangement.
Much like this band’s unsung 1988 hero of an album, there is a regulated sense of pacing that keeps this from being a 100% thrash album, at least by the standards set by “Darkness Descends”, “Eternal Nightmare” and a host of other albums from the later 80s where speed was as much a factor as riffing. “44 Minutes” and “How The Story Ends” listen closer to a slightly heavier version of Accept with a couple of thrash riffs littered here and there. “Bodies” reverts to the slow paced fanfare of “Symphony Of Destruction”, but with a little more to the song than 3 riffs.
Apart from the aforementioned songs, a slightly slower version of the pummeling heaviness of thrash metal in “The Right To Go Insane” and a gloomy epic ballad that reminds a tiny bit of Nuclear Assault’s “Brain Damage”, but with a bit more melody and atmosphere, the rest of this album is a pretty solid wrecking ball of punchy, hard edged thrash metal the way that any fan of the 80s version of the style can appreciate it. Between the unfettered chaos of “This Day We Fight”, the classic speed metal glory of “1,320”, and the middle ground between the two in “Head Crusher”, if the words “Megadeth just brought home the goods” don’t echo in your ears with each thudding power chord, nothing will please you.
Phrases like “essential purchase” often get thrown around, but in this case I’d say it safely avoids being a mere selling point for a band that was a force in the metal world years ago. This is definitely the best thing that the band has done since 1990, and rivals their earlier works. There’s no soft rock influences, no goofy songs of love gone wrong, just good angst ridden metal with the political subjects and storylines to match. Get it for the solos, get it for a superior vocal performance out of Mustaine, get it for the ingeniously epic riff fest of a title track. Just remember the key point of picking this up as soon as humanly possible, even if it means selling yourself on the street for nickels and dimes at a time.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on September 25, 2009.